TIME North Korea

North Korea Releases 1 of 3 U.S. Detainees

Jeffrey Fowle
Jeffrey Fowle, an American detained in North Korea speaks to the Associated Press, Sept. 1, 2014 in Pyongyang, North Korea. Wong Maye-E—AP

Jeffrey Fowle is on his way home, officials say

North Korea has released Jeffrey Fowle, one of three Americans who have been detained by the reclusive country, the White House confirmed Tuesday.

“I am in a position to confirm that Jeffrey Fowle has been allowed to depart the DPRK and is on his way home to his family as we speak,” White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said in a briefing.

The U.S. negotiated Fowle’s release through the government of Sweden, which handles consular cases for American citizens in North Korea.

Fowle, who was visiting the country as a tourist, was arrested earlier this year for leaving a Bible in the restroom of a club. Two other Americans, Kenneth Bae and Matthew Miller, continue to be held.

North Korea requested that the U.S. provide transportation for Fowle out of the country, and Earnest said the Department of Defense arranged transport for his trip back to the U.S.

TIME North Korea

A Former Doctor to North Korea’s Founder Thinks He Passed on Health Problems to Kim Jong Un

Kim Il Sung
North Korea's founder Kim Il Sung in Pyongyang, Oct. 10, 1980. AP

Kim Il Sung had an obsessive drive to live to the age of 100

A former physician to North Korea’s f0unding leader Kim Il Sung speculated in a new interview that the ailments which afflicted the elder Kim may explain the recent public absence of his grandson and the country’s current leader, Kim Jong Un.

Kim So-Yeon, a phyisician who defected to South Korea in 1992, told CNN that Kim Il Sung suffered from a range of maladies, including stress, obesity, diabetes and heart problems, as well as an obsessive drive to live to the age of 100. She observed the same symptoms in his son, Kim Jong Il.

Examining photographs of the youngest Kim to make claims that can’t be verified in the opaque country, the physician speculated that Kim Jong Un recent reappearance in public, limping with a cane after a prolonged absence for unspecified medical treatments, appeared to match the symptoms of his father and grandfather.

[CNN]

Read next: Sorry, North Korea Conspiracists: Kim Jong Un Is Probably Just Sick

TIME North Korea

KCNA: North Korean Leader Makes Public Appearance

Update: Oct. 14, 6:24 a.m. ET

(SEOUL, South Korea) — After vanishing from the public eye for nearly six weeks, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un is back, ending rumors that he was gravely ill, deposed or worse.

Now, a new, albeit smaller, mystery has emerged: Why the cane?

Kim, who was last seen publicly at a Sept. 3 concert, appeared in images released by state media Tuesday smiling broadly and supporting himself with a walking stick while touring the newly built Wisong Scientists Residential District and another new institute in Pyongyang, part of his regular “field guidance” tours. The North didn’t say when the visit happened, nor did it address the leader’s health.

Kim’s appearance allowed the country’s massive propaganda apparatus to continue doing what it does best — glorify the third generation of Kim family rule. And it will tamp down, at least for the moment, rampant rumors of a coup and serious health problems.

Before Tuesday, Kim missed several high-profile events that he normally attends and was described in an official documentary last month as experiencing “discomfort.”

Archive footage from August showed him overweight and limping, prompting the South Korean media to speculate he had undergone surgery on his ankles. Some experts thought he was suffering from gout or diabetes.

A South Korean analyst said Kim probably broke his media silence to dispel outside speculation that he wasn’t in control and to win sympathy from a domestic audience by creating the image of a leader who works through pain.

The appearance may be a form of “emotional politics meant to appeal to the North Korean people’s sympathy,” said Cheong Seong-chang, at the private Sejong Institute in South Korea.

It was the first time a North Korean leader allowed himself to be seen relying on a cane or crutch, South Korean officials said. Kim’s father, Kim Jong Il, who reportedly suffered a stroke in 2008 before dying of a heart attack in late 2011, was seen limping but never with a walking stick, nor was the country’s founder and Kim Jong Un’s grandfather, Kim Il Sung, said Lim Byeong Cheol, a spokesman from Seoul’s Unification Ministry.

Cheong said Kim appeared in the recently released images to have lost about 10 kilograms (22 pounds) compared to pictures from May. He speculated that since Kim was holding a cane on his left side he may have had surgery on his left ankle.

Kim “appears to want to show people that he’s doing fine, though he’s indeed still having some discomfort. If he hadn’t done so, excessive speculation would have continued to flare up and anxiety among North Korean residents would have grown and calls by outsiders for contingency plans on dealing with North Korea would have gotten momentum,” Cheong said.

The South Korean government has all along seen no signals of any major problems.

In deciding to resume his public activity before fully recovering from his condition, Kim was looking to quickly quell rumors that his health problems were serious enough to threaten his status as North Korean leader, said Lim, the government spokesman.

“The cane aside, he looked to be in good health,” Lim said.

The recent absence was, in part, “probably an attention-getting device — and it certainly works,” Bruce Cumings, an expert on Korea at the University of Chicago, said in an email.

“The North has been on a diplomatic offensive in Europe and elsewhere, it feels isolated — and is, if we’re talking about relations with Washington,” he wrote. “All this puts them back on the front page.”

___

AP writers Hyung-jin Kim and Kim Tong-hyung contributed to this story from Seoul.

Read next: Sorry, North Korea Conspiracists: Kim Jong Un Is Probably Just Sick

TIME Innovation

Five Best Ideas of the Day: October 13

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

1. Women can’t thrive in a society where anything other than “no” means “maybe.” Consent laws are an important step, but we need a change in culture.

By Amanda Taub in Vox

2. Jokes aside, the palace intrigue behind Kim Jong Un’s mysterious absence could contain valuable intelligence.

By Gordon G. Chang in the Daily Beast

3. As we fight the Ebola outbreak in West Africa, global donor organizations should build a recovery plan for the aftermath.

By the editorial board of the Christian Science Monitor

4. That self-parking feature on your new car might help military vehicles avoid enemy fire.

By Jack Stewart at the BBC

5. The next wave of satellite imaging will redefine public space.

By the editors of New Scientist

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME North Korea

U.S. Thinks North Korea Leader Still in Power

KCNA picture shows North Korean leader Kim Jong Un during a visit to the construction site of a terminal at Pyongyang International Airport
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un pays a visit to the construction site of a terminal at Pyongyang International Airport in this undated photo released by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) in Pyongyang on July 11, 2014. KCNA—Reuters

“We have not seen any indications of a transfer of power at this point in North Korea"

National Security Adviser Susan Rice said Sunday that the U.S. was closely monitoring the situation in North Korea, following a week of rumors regarding the status of Kim Jong Un as the country’s leader.

In an appearance on NBC’s Meet the Press, Rice was asked by Chuck Todd if she was convinced that Kim Jong Un was still the leader of his country.

“Obviously, we are watching very carefully what’s happening in North Korea,” said Rice. “It’s a country that we monitor with great attention.”

Rice did not rule out the possibility of Kim Jong Un being deposed, but said there was no concrete evidence regarding the North Korean leader…

Read the rest of the story from our partners at NBC News

TIME North Korea

North Korea Leader Misses Public Appearance as Questions Loom About His Health

TO GO WITH Oly-2012-PRK,FEATURE(FILES)
North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un salutes during a military parade in Pyongyang, April 15, 2012. Ed Jones—AFP/Getty Images

Kim Jong Un hasn't been seen in public since Sept. 3

Kim Jong Un missed an appearance at a key annual event on Friday, furthering speculation about the North Korean Leader’s health and control of his country.

Kim, who has ruled North Korea since his father’s death in 2011, was a no-show at a celebration for the 69th anniversary of the founding of the Workers’ Party of North Korea in the country’s capital, according to The New York Times. The leader has led trips to the mausoleum that houses his father and grandfather in honor of the holiday every year since assuming power, but this year, state media did not list him as one of the officials in attendance.

The North Korean leader has not been seen publicly since Sept. 3, his longest absence from the public eye since 2010, according to NK News. Footage taken over the summer shows Kim limping and has led some to speculate that he is ill.

[NYT]

TIME North Korea

How North Korea’s Government Wants You To See Kim Jong Un

The image of the Dear Leader is tightly controlled by North Korean government's Korean Central News Agency, which has fashioned a sunny disposition for the country's mysterious leader. Kim has dropped out of view in recent weeks as many speculate about his health.

TIME North Korea

Rival Koreas Trade Fire Over Propaganda Balloons

(SEOUL, South Korea) — North and South Korea traded fire Friday after the North shot at a South Korean propaganda balloon, an official and a news report said.

A defense official in Seoul said North Korea fired at South Korea and some of the shells fell on the South’s territory. The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of office rules, said South Korea returned fire.

The firing comes as speculation grows about what is happening with North Korea’s authoritarian leader, Kim Jong Un, who has been out of public view for more than a month. He missed a major anniversary event on Friday for the first time in three years.

South Korea’s Yonhap news agency said the North fired at the propaganda balloon near the South Korean border town of Yeoncheon. It provided no sources for the information.

South Korean activists and North Korean defectors frequently release balloons carrying anti-North Korean leaflets into the North, but Friday’s action was likely to anger North Korea more because it came on the founding anniversary of its ruling Workers’ Party of Korea.

South Korean civic organizations mainly made up of North Korean defectors sent 10 balloons northward from the South Korean side of the border containing 20,000 anti-North Korea leaflets. The balloons also contained1,000 U.S. $1 bills, 400 propaganda DVDs and 300 propaganda thumb drives.

North Korea’s Secretariat of the Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of Korea released a statement on Thursday criticizing the planned leaflet launch, calling it “little short of a declaration of a war.”

“If the South Korean authorities allow or connive at the projected leaflet-scattering operation, the north-south relations will again be pushed to an uncontrollable catastrophe and the provokers will be wholly accountable for it,” the statement said.

TIME North Korea

Sorry, North Korea Conspiracists: Kim Jong Un Is Probably Just Sick

Kim Jong Un waves to spectators and participants of a mass military parade celebrating the 60th anniversary of the Korean War armistice in Pyongyang on July 27, 2013.
Kim Jong Un waves to spectators and participants of a mass military parade celebrating the 60th anniversary of the Korean War armistice in Pyongyang on July 27, 2013. Wong Maye-E—AP

Rumors that the Supreme Leader's month-long vanishing act signals a coup or a power shuffle are likely false, experts say

It has been precisely a month since corpulent young dictator Kim Jong Un disappeared from public view, prompting frenzied speculation about his health and the state of political play in North Korea.

Kim was last seen at a Sept. 3 concert, ensconced in a red easy chair next to his wife, Ri Sol Ju. Late last month, the youthful marshal was a no-show at a meeting of North Korea’s rubber-stamp legislature. The cloistered nation’s state-run TV aired images of his seat at parliament—empty. Rumors began flying as the disappearance ran into weeks that Kim was either dying or had been deposed. But North Korea experts say that the likeliest reason is also the simplest: That the Supreme Leader is sick.

Video of Kim at a July event marking the 20th anniversary event of the death of his grandfather, North Korea’s founder Kim Il Sung, showed him walking with a peculiar gait. In July footage, he was clearly sweating. State-run TV acknowledged that Kim was suffering from “discomfort.” Chosun Ilbo, the South Korean daily, translated a TV voice-over aired last month that praised: “our marshal, who lights the path of leadership for the people like a flame, although he was not feeling well.”

Yonhap, the South Korean news agency, has speculated that the latest scion of the three-generation Kim ruling dynasty may be suffering from gout, a form of arthritis nicknamed the king’s malady because it can be triggered by a rich diet and sedentary lifestyle. Both Kim’s father, Kim Jong Il (known as the Dear Leader), and his grandfather (referred to as the Great Leader) suffered from gout, according to Yonhap.

Photos of Kim taken since he assumed power show a rapidly expanding man, at least in terms of his girth. Obesity is a risk factor for gout. “The guy is seriously overweight,” says North Korea expert Andrei Lankov, who studied in Pyongyang in the 1980s and now teaches at Seoul’s Kookmin University. “It’s not good when you’re talking about a country where so many people are malnourished.”

With limited information available about Kim, North Korea-watchers are often left to dissect state-media coverage of his trips to factories or army installations that aim to capture the hereditary dynasty scion in all his glory and magnanimity. A photo released by the official North Korean Central News Agency in August, for instance, shows a grinning Kim at a military-run factory, standing next to a conveyer belt churning out twists of dough.

North Korean state media reports also serve to educate local elite who know how to read between the lines. “These are signals but signals only for people in the know,” says Lankov. “I am quite sure the official media reports about his ill health would have been signed off on by the great man himself.”

Another possible hint that Kim is not fully incapacitated, as some of the wilder North Korea rumors have it: a leadership shuffle was recently announced in Pyongyang. “I don’t think that would have been authorized without him,” says Lankov. “He may be undergoing some sort of treatment but I’m pretty sure he’s capable of making management decisions.”

Kim has vanished from public view before, 10 days in July, for example, as well as 18 in January. But this is his longest absence from state news coverage since taking over from his father in December 2011. Still, North Korea-watchers caution against the conspiracy theories involving coups or intricate power plays involving members of the Kim clan. John Delury, a professor at Yonsei University in Seoul, notes that North Korean officials have been busy in recent weeks globe-trotting on a “major charm offensive.”

“If there had been regicide or revolt in Pyongyang, it’s unlikely the wheels of North Korean diplomacy would spin like business as usual,” Delury says. “These episodes [like Kim's absence] reveal as much about us as them—our own assumptions, even obsessions, when it comes to North Korea. We assume North Korea must be on the brink of collapse, so when the young leader suspends his relentless ‘onsite guidance visits’ for a few weeks, we assume he’s been overthrown. Precisely because we have fewer sources of reliable, direct information about North Korea, it pays not to rush to judgment.”

On Wednesday, at the Asian Games being held in Incheon, South Korea, the North Korean women’s soccer squad captured a surprise gold medal by defeating the Japanese team. At the press conference, the North Korean skipper said the “players trained with dedication and never stopped fighting,” the AFP reported, “to return the warm love of our dear leader Kim Jong-Un.”

TIME North Korea

No One Has Seen North Korea’s Kim Jong Un in Three Weeks

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un attends the Supreme People's Assembly in Pyongyang
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un attends the Supreme People's Assembly in Pyongyang, in this still image taken from video released by Kyodo on April 9, 2014 Kyodo/Reuters

Kim Jong Un's absence from an important parliamentary meeting fuels speculation about health problems

What has happened to Kim Jong Un?

That’s the question everyone seems to be asking, amid all kinds of rumors following the North Korean dictator’s uncharacteristic three-week absence from the public eye. Kim was last seen alongside his wife Ri Sol Ju at a concert in Pyongyang on Sept. 3, and several news outlets are speculating that the 31-year-old may be ill.

The rumors intensified on Thursday with the North Korean leader’s absence from an important parliament meeting. Reuters reported that state-television broadcast images of his empty chair at the Supreme People’s Assembly, the country’s highest sovereign body, the first such powwow he has missed since coming to power three years ago.

The Wall Street Journal speculated on Friday that Kim might be suffering from gout, a disease caused primarily by an excessive intake of meat, sugar and alcohol. A South Korean official told the Journal that gout runs in the tyrannical clan, starting with Kim’s grandfather Kim Il Sung, who died in 1994 at age 82. Kim also suffers from obesity, high blood pressure and diabetes, he added.

Such rumors have been fueled by reports that North Korean television showed the country’s Supreme Leader walking with a pronounced limp back in July.

Another theory about his condition, according to Agence France-Presse, is that he picked up an injury while providing “guidance” to North Korean athletes competing in the Asian Games, currently in progress at Incheon, South Korea.

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